Stickman's Weekly Column July 6th, 2003

They Cost What? I Thought This Was Bangkok!



So, you've managed to get through the first few years of your Thai experience relatively unscathed. You have no doubt made a few mistakes along the way, but have probably reached a point where you accept Thailand for what it is and have most likely got used to the Thai way of doing things, having realized that the farang approach often won't work here. You've come to accept this, you get on with things and life in Thailand is good. You may have even entertained thoughts of staying on in the Kingdom permanently.

If you came here alone, as most people do, odds are that you will settle down with a partner, perhaps get married and in time, you may decide that you want to start a family. The kids arrive and before you realise it, you are faced with a big decision ­ where do you send them to school?

Take it from someone who works in what is supposed to be one the most prestigious and presumably one of the best Thai high schools, the quality of education in Thailand is highly questionable. So many of the Thai teachers are products of a system that promotes rote learning. So many Thai teachers will just stand at the front of the class and literally bark at the students through a microphone, rattling off a bunch of factual information mixed up with, dare I say it, a not insignificant amount of propaganda. Don't doubt it, I see it five days a week. The student’s task is simple. Write the info down. Memorise it. Recite it at exam time. Anything remembered beyond that seems to be considered a bonus. Critical thinking, breadth of thought, creativity and using one’s imagination seldom come into it. There are all sorts of other questionable practices but I won't go into them for now. The bottom line is that it can be a scary thought to send your kids to a Thai school.

But options exist. There are many international schools in Thailand, and there are more and more international programmes opening up in regular schools. International schools use foreign teachers following a curriculum from abroad, generally the British, the American or the IB school system, meaning that you have some choice on just how your kids will be educated. International schools are supposed to be up to the standard of what would be considered a good school in the West, if not better.

There are also international programmes in Thai high schools which tend to be the Thai school curriculum taught by Westerners using Western teaching techniques, with everything essentially translated from Thai to English. The advantages are that kids are subjected to Western teaching techniques and should come out of it with very good English.

So, what sort of money are you looking at to get your little darling(s) educated in Thailand? The international programmes run from around 100,000 baht a year up to at least 320,000 baht per year – and there may be schools charging more. Ouch, that is almost $US 8,000 per year!

But it can get dearer than that, much dearer! International schools charge a lot more and some charge in excess of $US 10,000 per year. I've heard, but cannot confirm, that there are international schools that charge up to $US 15,000 equivalent per year!

As an example, the actual fees for ISB (International School of Bangkok), generally considered one of the very best international schools here, are a one time enrolment fee of baht 220,000. Following this, there is an annual fee which includes a capital improvement fund contribution but excludes books, transportation, etc. and depends on grade level. Elementary (inc. Kindergarten): 505,000 baht. Middle (6-8): 543,000 baht and High: 553,000 baht.

At the end of the day, you could be looking at, in a worst case scenario, a total cost in excess of $US 150,000 in school fees alone to educate your little darling. And this is just for one child who has yet to enter tertiary education which can be a killer financially in some countries! And if you have more than one kid…well, you do the maths! Compare this with the cost of education in the West which would, assuming you send your kid to a public school, be virtually free – token school fees here, a donation here or there, nothing that is going to break the bank. Oh, and don’t forget that there has been a furore in the press recently with parents complaining about the tea money that has to be paid just to get little Johnny or Sally into a respected institution. So, in addition to the school fees, a gift may have to be offered to even get your little darling into a desirable school!

And is the quality of tuition, indeed the whole school experience, at an international school, that much better than at a regular Thai school? No doubt it is better, but just how much better is a moot point. There are a few Thai high schools that are very good and I personally have been very impressed with some high school students who I have taught from one of the Triam Udom Schools, and also a bunch of students from the girls only MataDei School. Actually, the girls from this school were really excellent students. Select groups of students from these schools who I had the pleasure to teach spoke outstanding English and seemed to have the curious nature AND willingness to questions ideas that it so encouraged in Western school systems. I'm sure the best products of a Thai school would fare very well against the best products of a Bangkok international school.

If one cannot afford to send their child(ren) to an international school, it is possible that they can still get a good education at a regular school. I mean, if Thai schools really were that bad, then the whole population would be dumb, but of course that isn't the case. But one has to be very selective about where they send their kids, and needs to be aware that the competition to get kids into the better schools is INTENSE, both in terms of academic entry requirements and “other entry requirements”!

While there are many factors which determine how successful one's school education is, it often comes down to the individual teachers. Some international schools have the odd teacher who frankly, is not up to it, but generally the standard of teachers will be very good. And conversely, there are Thai schools with some outstanding teachers. The big question that has to be asked is whether an international school education is worth the price asked? I am of the belief that while the quality of education is very good in most Bangkok international schools, it is perhaps not commensurate with the fees charged. For the average man in the street, this is critical. Not everyone has an income sufficient to pay what can be crippling fees. If money was no object or one was an expat who invariably has a contract whereby their employer pays all school fees, then who cares what the fees are? But that is not the case for most of us. Highly paid Westerners on fat expat salaries make up only a small percentage of the Westerners in Thailand. For the rest of us, the cost of education is steep, prohibitively so.

So, what if you can't afford to pay the international school fees? And what if you truly believe that sending your kids to school in Thailand is not a real option? What do you do? Is it then time to go home? Could that be the end of your time in Thailand? Educating your children is one hell of a big deal, but if you cannot afford a few hundred thousand baht a year, what do you do?

Where is this pic?

Last week's pic

It was Bang Saen Beach.

This week's pic

Last week's pic was was of the promenade at Bang Saen beach, the Thai dominated stretch of sand not that far from Pattaya. 75% of people thought that it was either Pattaya or Jomtien, some quite indignant when told they were wrong. This week's pic is back in Bangkok. There is a prize offered for the where is this pic prize each week. The first Bangkok based person to answer the pic correctly wins a tube of MyCreme, the cream that will send your teeruk to heaven! I'm sorry that for now, the prize is only available to Bangkok based folk. However, for guys outside the Big Mango, still do feel free to email me your guess. If you would like to offer a prize for winners of the contest, drop me an email. Your product or service will get mentioned here every week. This week's pic is kindly provided by Mr. JingJai.

FROM STICKMAN'S BAG OF EMAIL:

Bloody great down that way!
While visiting Thailand last month, I stayed at a Cha Am Beach Resort with my girlfriend for 4 nights. I wont even mention the price that we paid as you probably wont believe it. Anyway, it was fantastic. The beach was nice, clean and not crowded. Having a car enabled us to travel around. We went to Hua Hin for dinners and shopping. She took me to a seafood restaurant run by a Thai family right at the night market, cant be missed if you are there. We shared a broiled red snapper and a nice portion of fried rice with crab
meat plus 2 Pepsi and deserts. Meal was delicious and the price too (Total bill: 550 baht, tip incl.) Granted the place has no great ambience and was cooled off by fans rather than air-con but lack of ambience was compensated nicely by the friendliness and warmness of the owner(s). We enjoyed it immensely. True, Hua Hin / Cha Am is not like Phuket but as far as I am concerned, let it stay that way. Others may disagree so my answer is "to each his own".
Is it unanimous? We like the head of rocks? Or we just like nice rocks? Or we just like good head?
I've been to Hua Hin a few times myself, and my impressions weren't much different than yours. One problem I've had which you didn't mention (and which I've encountered elsewhere in Thailand), is the difficulty of finding a room with one large bed. If you have a woman with you, you probably want to share the same bed. Most everywhere I've looked in Hua Hin, the hotels had only rooms with two small beds. They always say you can push the two beds together, but that doesn't work! Unless they are BOLTED together, you will slip through the middle. I finally ended up at the Ban Pak Hua Hin (on the same soi as all the beer bars) which was quite all right for a cheap place. They had rooms with one big bed, but the mattresses were as hard as a slab of granite. I generally prefer a firm mattress, but this was ridiculous.
Thai strikes again!
You mention that the friendly folks at Thai Airways will divulge information you request. How about this one? I called them once about my girlfriend whom I had once helped establish a Royal Orchid frequent flying account. They provided me with not only her account number, but also her "pin" number to check on her account balance. Not a bad idea so now I can check and see if she's been travelling with some other farang and not telling me. Thank you Thai Airways.
Work permit refusals.
I've known two people who were refused work permits in Thailand. Both of them at that weird school I used to work at, and they were refused about 2 or 3 years ago. One was an Irishman, the other a South African girl. Reason for refusal for both: No bachelor's degree. The Irishman is now back in Ireland, but with a Thai wife. The South African girl now works as a Project Manager, and with a work permit now.
Yep, the cleaners are usually damned nice folk.
I had been changing sim cards in my phone when I had to suddenly leave my apartment (I might mention now that this wasn't any flash apartment – just a standard one in outer Bangkok with just 1 other falang resident) as I did I knocked one of the sim cards to the floor – being in a rush I thought I would pick it up later. I had also forgotten that I had requested my room to be cleaned that day. Sure enough when I came back it is no where to be seen. I wasn't going to worry about it until I started thinking how many important numbers were on that card so I decided to go and see 'Julia' the cleaner and see if she knew anything about it. That night was the apartment Christmas party and she was all dressed up for a night out when I asked if she remembered seeing it. She didn't but insisted on checking the bins where she had thrown all the rubbish into. I told her it could wait until tomorrow as she had finished work for the day but she would hear nothing of it. 2 minutes later she is delving through these bins full of old food and drinks (not to mention a few used condoms) and sure enough right at the bottom was my sim card. Just another experience I have had of Thai hospitality.
But she's different!
I see a lot of comment on 'where can I find a good girl', 'I've been burnt before', 'my hearts been broken' etc etc. Whilst this goes on and whilst it is sad from the punter's point of view, I haven't seen a lot of discussion on the girls themselves – their feelings (some say who gives a F; my attitude on a recent excursion to LOS has changed a little). At close of business (morning) and successive bar fines with the same lady (Ok don't BF the same woman rule exists in some circles but hey!) what happens if the teeruk does actually fall for you – what about her and her feelings – is this real or is it part of the game? There are pages devoted to this in 'Hello My Big Big Honey' and the transcripts that go back and forth between BG and punter and one has to be business like and sceptical in many dealings with said BG. But what if you strike one that really does start to care – no mention of sick buffalo (yet), or third cousin Noy doesn't require a immediate 20K baht lumber punch! What if you can see through the act (which is normally enjoyable) and strike a raw nerve, like love? What if she falls in love with you – really? Where does it go and what happens? Invariably I would say a broken heart occurs because you are on vacation and go home. There are always two sides to the coin of love and pain and quite often the girls get burnt too. The Big Mango….a place of love,
pain, hurt, sanuk and pooyings – a melting pot of all those things; it's like going home! Spare a thought for the 'angel sliding up to you', she could fall in love with you and you'll know the BS for the real thing, both players are human after all; it's just when the money runs out and you have to go home…
An update about the investment scam on Soi 4. Staff salaries for last month had not been paid by the couple, as at Friday. The female of the couple has threatened any staff who leave won't be paid at all! A few of the girls are especially unfortunate because they had paid their own barfines for the days they didn’t show up in order to keep their salaries intact! NEWSFLASH: I have just heard a rumour at the very last minute that the couple have done a runner! I have had no time to confirm this and it remains just a rumour for the moment.

Racy Casey, the crazy manager of Cocktail Bar would like it known that he is celebrating his birthday this Wednesday, that is the 9th of July. There will be nine different kinds of food, and 9 bottles of whisky on offer. So, get down to Cowboy and celebrate it with Casey.

It seems that we are past the worst times in what has been a severe drop in tourist numbers. Anecdotal evidence from people on the ground is that numbers are up on the last couple of months. And in terms of bars, the odd bar in Bangkok is talking of record levels, for this time of year at least. At least one Nana bar has reported to me that their June bar take was up on May and even exceeded June of last year. Tourists floating around seem to be of the white skinned, long nosed variety and for now, the Asian tourists are scarce which is a little strange as they, more than anyone, should realise that Thailand is safe.

On a positive note, Boss Hogg should be congratulated for the sign that he has on the wall of Big Dog's. Yes, the one with the picture of evil, barring vermin from entering his fine establishment. And he should also get a big pat on the back for the excellent Independence Day celebration in his bar. Plenty of Miller beer at give away prices and unlike a lot of bars that put on slop and have the cheek to call it "free food", Boss Hogg put on damned good burgers, hot dogs and even kebabs! This was not your token pig on a spit as many bars do. This was the good stuff.

A friend went to Gulliver's a couple of weeks ago with a couple of lady friends. After a drink or two too many, he left. Having already left, he wondered if he had paid the bill or not, but dismissed his curiosity figuring it was too late to worry about. Well, he returned this past Friday and he had barely walked in the door before he was approached by staff, who had the bill from a fortnight previous. The bill was paid with no hard feelings – which is nice, and shows the professionalism of the bar staff involved. It also goes to show how good the memory of the average Thai is.

Wash your belly button thoroughly before you go home to your Thai Mrs! Thai women are known to check this part of your body for….talcum powder! Yep, I am informed that at the end of a naughty massage in many massage parlours that target Thai customers, one is washed and smothered with talcum powder. Apparently most Thai guys will rub most of the evidence off, but remnants remain in that hole in their navel. So, for those of you who cannot remain faithful and do not wish your Mrs to feed the ducks, wash thoroughly – or better still, run a mile when you see the talc!

Just because they are an international company with a recognisable name, don’t necessarily expect to get the same level of service from the Bangkok office as you would get elsewhere. Standard Chartered may be a big, British bank but some of what goes on in their Bangkok office would give the British based management nightmares. At work this week, a colleague was visited by a representative of Standard Chartered Bank who demanded that he make his loan payment in person right at that moment, as it was two weeks late. Now this representative of the bank could be best described as no more than a scruffy beast in rags adorning a motorcycle ­ and frankly, that would be on the kind side. Before meeting with my colleague, he had managed to sully said colleague's reputation with several of the Thai staff. Upon meeting the Standard Chartered representative, my colleague just happened to have the receipt for the loan payment in his wallet. Now, there is another fellow at work who also has a loan with the same bank. His first loan payment was due on the 22nd of a month and on the 23rd he had the bank on the phone, asking why payment had not been made. On the 25th, he received his payment book (he didn’t even know how to make payment before that point). Yep, you guessed it, the payment book, which had been sent by registered post was stamped at the post office on the 24th! Standard Chartered seem to be big on loans within the farang community in Bangkok but don’t make the mistake of thinking that because they are well known, you'll get the same level of service as you would elsewhere. You wont! The big question one has to wonder is – are the other banks any better?

I notice that mobile phone numbers are on to the 05s now… It is starting to get confusing. 01, 09, 07 and now 05.

In what is a massive reversal, the majority of bargirls checked out in investigations recently have proven to be innocent. Yep, it seems that close to 80% of the bargirl check-ups completed recently have resulted in girls who have not played while Khun Farang is away. Quite amazing really as in the past it was the complete opposite just a year or so ago.

In order to liven things up a little more at Big John's Home baked Pies & Aussie Burgers & Guesthouse, they're offering the following until further notice. Three drinks for the price of 2 from 6 PM – midnight every night. Free APPLE PIE 10 PM – 2 AM (free small apple pie with every large pie eaten) Leave a name card and go in the draw to win dinner for 2, drawn every Friday night at 7 PM and there is no need to be there at the draw to win! Every night at 9 PM, they'll be drawing the chance to win 6 free beers, but you'll need to be there during the draw to claim that prize. Wednesday night, from 5 PM, is Ladies Night with buy 1 get 2 and free daiquiris (for ladies only). They've added several Western style vegetarian meals to the menu, including a vegetarian bacon breakfast, vegetarian bangers and mash – yes, the gravy is vegetarian as well, vegetarian smoked chicken and vegetarian spaghetti bolognaise, to name a few. They are open from 7 AM every day. Things are taking a little longer than expected with the fit out of the Sukhumvit Soi One franchise, but that should be open by the end of July.

The Thais have their way of establishing the pecking order in any given situation and everyone knows where they fit in. Us foreigners don't quite have that, but it is forever annoying that as a foreigner in Thailand, you are immediately classified into one of a few possible groups. You might be an expat, a teacher, a sex tourist, a backpacker or possibly a sexpat. Few other classifications seem to exist and you may often found yourself classified as one of these. Now where this gets interesting is when you are choosing a place to drink. It seems that you cannot drink in a bar without being labelled as something. Drink in The Londoner, The Irish Exchange or anywhere where a beer goes for over 100 baht and you are classified as an expat. Go to Gulliver's in Khao Sarn and you are a backpacker or Gulliver's in Sukumvit and you are a whoremonger. Drink at happy hour and you are a teacher. I don't want to be classified – where can I drink?

Are you a New Zealander? Want to get together with a few fellow countrymen for a drink from time to time? A chance to discuss Jonah's dialysis and Helen Clark's moustache with other interested parties. I'm going to start up a small Kiwi social group so drop me an email if you're interested. Kiwis only, I'm afraid.

As a special promotion, Calls In Thailand are offering free overseas telephone cards for Stickman readers. These phone cards work from any phone in Thailand and you can telephone to most farang countries from only 10.8 baht per minute. The cards are also especially cheap to call from the USA to Thailand too. To get your free gift immediately just visit the Calls in Thailand website and send a short email to Martin, the webmaster with some constructive feedback about how he can improve his site. You will receive your free telephone card by email.

Mrs. Stick's Corner

Yep, she is back. After suffering hell at work and being forced to work like a slave during the day, and clean up all of my shit at night, Mrs. Stick returns to help you understand Thailand and Thais that little bit better. Each week, Mrs. Stick will answer questions about Thai / farang relationships and general issues that baffle the average Westerner in Thailand. Mrs. Stick is an open-minded Thai lady who is happy to answer your questions. Please send questions for her, via me, at the usual email address. Two or three questions will be chosen each week and answered in the following week's column. The responses are hers and NOT mine although I may attempt to correct her English from time to time. Note 1: I may not necessarily agree with what she says! Note 2: Unfortunately, she doesn't have time to reply to your inquiries via email.

Question 1: Do Thai women like greying pot bellied 39 year old farangs without money, but a nice personality?

Mrs. Stick says:

It is hard to say. I believe that farangs who have everything, i.e. the things you don't have as well as a nice personality, will have a far better opportunity than you to meet Thai women. If you chase one of these girls from a bar who is after money, you will be out of favour, but if you approach a genuine lady, such as someone who works in an office, you have every chance to meet someone nice.

Question 2: Can you tell me how an American with few skills can seek employment in Thailand?

Mrs. Stick says:

Is there any time or any chance for you to develop your skills to actually make yourself useful? If the answer is no, stay where you are. Why do you want to come here to a country like ours? Do you want us to serve you and give you all that your country can't, but then you give us little or nothing in return?

I'm writing about relationships between sisters (real sisters, not bargirl "sisters"). My girlfriend's older sister is mean to her, takes advantage of her, and sometimes even steals from her. My gf has her own successful business where the sister works, she pays her well and gives her a place to stay. Yet the sister slags her off in front of other employees, is sometimes rude to customers, and disappears for days on end occasionally. While I'm not sure I'm getting the whole story, I think it's generally accurate. I told my gf to fire her, but she said her mother wouldn't let her. The sister wants 700,000 baht to go away! What's up with this situation? Is my gf really in a bind? Or is she being a wimp? How much trouble can she get in with her family? I try to stay out of it but it upsets my gf a lot and I feel the fallout. Maybe you could expound on sisterly relationships in general, if you don't want to dwell on mine. What are the obligations, privileges and unspoken relations between sisters. How dysfunctional can they get? And how dysfunctional is this one?

Mrs. Stick says:

In one family, there is often someone who is quite different from others, sort of like a black sheep, but not necessarily that strong. Asian families have very strong relationships and members of the family commit to help each other as much as possible, and never abandon a family member, no matter what happens. Like Thai people say, blood is more viscous than water. No matter how good someone is, or may be to us, they are not family and we must be always put our family first. I repeat, no matter what. In this case, the sister who is causing a lot of trouble for the family, or at least to your girlfriend, may have some sort of problem. If she causes these problems away from the family, no-one will care for her and thus it may be that the family want to remain good to her, for she is a family member and because if she cannot get support from within the family, she most certainly will not get it from outside of the family. What is worse, she might even cause greater problems outside of the family, which will eventually, return to the family. With this in mind, the family wants to try and be good to her, because if the problem stays within the family, it can be, to some extent, controlled. Once it goes outside, control is lost and anything could happen and ultimately, the family will suffer. Remember, if you marry a Thai, you marry the family.

So that is all for this week. Next week's column will likely see more commentary about international schools. I'm also working on a piece about Thailand's big chat forum, a place where the so called prim and proper girls are dropping their knickers for all and sundry. Tune in next week.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Special thanks as always go out to Dave The Rave